Eli Lilly and Co. agreed to pay AstraZeneca Plc as much as $500 million to jointly develop an experimental oral drug for Alzheimer’s, joining an elusive search to slow the debilitating brain disease.
The two companies will work together to develop AZD3293, which belongs to a novel class of drugs called BACE inhibitors that block production of amyloid, a protein that causes plaque to build up in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. AstraZeneca will receive the first milestone payment of $50 million in the first half of 2015 and the companies will share equally all future costs and potential global revenues, the London-based company said Tuesday in a statement.
The partnership allows AstraZeneca to forge ahead with a drug CEO Pascal Soriot has called a “hidden gem,” even as the company outsources neuroscience research. The companies will enter a field mired in setbacks, with two drugs in the class, from Roche Holding AG and Indianapolis-based Lilly, failing in development because of safety issues. Merck & Co.’s MK-8931 is the most advanced BACE inhibitor, currently undergoing late-stage testing.
“By combining the scientific expertise from our two organizations and by sharing the risks and cost of late-stage development, we will be able to accelerate the advancement of AZD3293,” said Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of innovative medicines at AstraZeneca. “This alliance will enable AstraZeneca to further sharpen our strategic focus on core therapeutic areas, while leveraging external collaborations.”
More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and the number is expected to triple by 2050. The only drugs approved for the condition ease symptoms for a few months while the debilitating brain disease progresses. Still, they generate more than $5 billion annually.
Astra and Lilly’s drug reduced amyloid in early-stage testing. The two companies will work to begin studies in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, according to the statement. Lilly will lead clinical development while AstraZeneca will be responsible for manufacturing.